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Twattery in Pop: Yoko Ono and Mojo

yoko onoI like Mojo magazine a lot. But I like it just a little less now that it has awarded Yoko Ono a fucking Lifetime Achievement award.

Let me set the record straight even before it bends. As a Beatles fan, I don”t blame Yoko for breaking up the band. In my fairly extensive reading of Beatles history, I have found little that portrays Yoko as an active agent in the Fabs” demise. The conventional wisdom that Yoko was to blame has its roots not in her conduct, but in an unpleasant combination of xenophobia, misogyny and perhaps societies” obsession with beauty. No, Yoko didn”t break up the Beatles; growing up did.

I find no cause to object on principle to Yoko Ono on grounds of her idiosyncratic style of singing. God knows, pop has awarded stardom to some gravely untalented charlatans whose baneful carolling nevertheless penetrated the airwaves (Michael Fucking Bolton, for one). Yoko”s atonal primal screams have rarely troubled radio playlists, so the adroit listener has always enjoyed the privilege of avoiding exposure to her stylings.

Likewise, I have no problem with Yoko”s brand of art (if art indeed it is). Apparently she had always relied on the patronage of older men in publicising her art. One artwork succeeded in landing her a younger, glamorous and talented man who loved her, and she him. It”s a fairytale that ended too soon. It is immaterial that the artwork which a possibly drug-addled John Lennon found so appealing involved a ladder and a card that said “yes”. Some people see art in images of the Virgin Mary created from elephant dung, some climb letters and find reward in monosyllabic non-sequiturs. That”s why art is subjective. I don”t need to understand it to be indifferent to it.

season_of_glassAnd yet, Yoko joins the league of extraordinary twattery in pop. Even so, I induct her reluctantly. I don”t want to be the guy to beat up on a grieving widow, even as she has built an industry on that grief. Her professional widowhood opens doors that would otherwise remain shut. The cover picture of her Season Of Glass LP, released with undue haste in June 1981, was troubling not for the image of Lennon”s blood-stained glasses, but for the intrinsic crass, morbid sensationalism in depicting them. One may be inclined to defend it as an artwork that speaks of the horror she had experienced. To me, it marked Yoko”s public transition from genuinely grieving wife to attention-seeking widow. By presenting us with the grisly image, she made her grief public and, alas, commercial.

Even after 28 years, her husband”s murder must be a horrible pain to bear, but Yoko Ono is marketing “” exploiting “” her widowhood a little too publicly and cynically, exemplified by that “John would say”¦” shtick, as if Lennon was a sage-like Confucius rather than a complex man with some serious limitations. No matter how swell Yoko thought her husband was, it is nauseating. It perpetuates the false notion that Lennon had special insights into the human condition. Like, he invented peace, brother man! One might expect evangelical Lennonians to sport wristbands enquiring WWJS (What Would John Say). The canonisation of John Lennon is a lie. The man was a fine pop musician, one of the greatest. But he was not a man to emulate. He was naïve to the point of fatuity, and he was a hypocrite. Imagine no possession ““ except a white Rolls Royce, a rural mansion with a white grand piano”¦you get the picture. Woman is the “nigger” of the world? Er, no, the “niggers” of the world would be the people you refer to as “niggers”, John. You are the walrus, googoogoojoo? Yup, that”s your level right there, Lennon. Even the serial perpetrator of Twattery in Film, Richard Gere, worked that one out when he quoted that line as representative of Lennon in the 1990 Grammy Awards (a rich source of future Twats in Pop).

Of course, the benefit of doubt must go to the idea that Gere is just a very stupid man who thinks that “googoogoojoo” represents a some kind of profundity that might make us all better people. If so “” and, oh, let”s stop fooling around and acknowledge that it indeed is so “”then the blame must be directed in large part at Yoko Ono”s myth-building. “As John would say”¦” We ought not give a fuck what John would say, whether through the medium of Yoko Ono or that of Linda Polley, a nasal right-wingnut with a toy keyboard who channels inarticulate reactionary messages from the beyond by Lennon and commits them to record.

mojomokoBut Mojo did not award Yoko Ono for her connection to Lennon, but for her indelible influence on music (even if without that relationship, very few would have been at threat of Yoko”s influence). Backed by the apparently deranged twosome of Mark Ronson and Johnny Marr, Mojo editor Phil Alexander gushed: “She may have been married to one of the most famous men in the world, but she also helped change music as we know it in her own right. First, by introducing avant-garde sensibilities to her husband but, just as significantly, by continuing to push the boundaries of what was deemed the norm way after that.” Fuck, I missed that. I thought Yoko”s musical style was portrayed with much accuracy in the classic “Beat Alls” episode of The Powerpuff Girls. It may well be that Ono has influenced some musicians, including her husband (whose successful songs were largely untainted by Yoko”s avant-garde); but even then, that influence has not been pervasive. Had there been no Yoko Ono, music would not be different.

Truth is, Marr, Ronson and Mojo have elevated a mediocre musical artist not on merit, but because of a revisionist “cool”. The elevation of Yoko Ono”s supposed musical genius is as pretentious as her art. By Mojo“s logic, Hazel O”Connor should feel aggrieved should the magazine fail to honour her, who has been more influential than Yoko “” and actually had at least two good songs (Yoko”s one really good song, Walking On Thin Ice, is marred by some frightening simian shrieking).

And then there is the saga of Yoko Ono”s dispute with Paul McCartney over the order of songwriting credits on Beatles records, an episode that did not reflect well on either. The billing dispute hit overdrive in the late “90s, when McCartney sought to reverse the traditional Lennon/McCartney on songs which he wrote by himself, but it first surfaced as early as 1976. When the credit for five Beatles songs on the Wings Over America live album was reversed, Yoko publicly objected. All five were written with no or very little input from Lennon. Yoko would have known, first-hand, that John had nothing to do with The Long And Winding Road, and even hated the song.

More than two decades later, Paul wanted the reverse credit for Yesterday “” a song John was not involved in writing or recording. Yoko feigned outrage at the supposed desecration of St John”s memory. When Paul released another live album in 2002 on which the credits were reversed, Yoko was considering legal action, with her camp saying that McCartney was trying “to rewrite history”. In a way McCartney was trying to do just that: to clarify the true authorship of songs Lennon had no involvement in. The associated ego-trippery is irrelevant; he had a point. In the event, Yoko did not sue, and in 2005 McCartney let the matter drop, declaring it unimportant. Nonetheless, it does rankle that she insisted, with a singular lack of spirit of magnanimity, that “a deal is a deal” “” even though that deal was verbal, struck long before she met John, involving songs she had nothing to do with. No matter how difficult her historic relationship with Paul, that is robust twattery. What would John say?

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Barenaked Ladies – Be My Yoko Ono (1992).mp3
Dar Williams – I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono (2000).mp3
John Lennon (via Linda Polley) ““ Hussein”s Butt Song.mp3
John Lennon (via Linda Polley) ““ Vote Republican.mp3

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  1. June 17th, 2009 at 12:08 | #1

    Nice post.

    She\’s from a very rich, upper class Japanese family. She\’s a female Samurai.

    The Japanese, especially Japanese of that sort, are extraordinary – their coldness and heartlessness is stunning sometimes.

    Samurai, they would kill over the most trifling point of honour, and think only of the elegance of the sword cut. While not unchanged, they haven\’t changed nearly enough – a sick sick sick sick sub-group of a deeply sick society.

    I doubt she grieves. I doubt she feels.

    I\’m not joking.

  2. June 17th, 2009 at 14:17 | #2

    “baneful carolling”…hee hee hee! I couldn’t agree more. It has always seemed like a certain pretentious wing of the rock crit world has found it necessary to big up Yoko Ono for no reason other than to look like they are diverging from consensus (which they are, but they think it makes them look smart).

  3. June 18th, 2009 at 20:59 | #3

    In 1972 Mike Douglas invited John and Yoko to co-host his show, and they had Chuck Berry on as a guest. The clip of Chuck playing “Memphis Tennessee” with John, Yoko, and the atrocious Elephant’s Memory Band is one of the greatest moments in rock’n’roll history. Chuck and John aren’t doing so well, but Berry looks like he’s trying to make the best of a bad situation. Suddenly, during an instrumental break, Yoko starts to warble. It is an incredible sound, almost like a didgeridoo, and Chuck just about jumps out of his skin.

    I’d say Yoko’s overall contribution to rock’n’roll is perfectly embodied in that moment.

  4. June 18th, 2009 at 23:41 | #4

    Dude, your take on Michael Fucking Bolton was funnier but taking on Yoko is also truly good. I hope you dig into the grammy awards soon but i’m already looking forward to your pieces on Celine Dion and Kenny G!

  5. June 19th, 2009 at 03:12 | #5

    “I thought Yoko’s musical style was portrayed with much accuracy in the classic “Beat Alls” episode of The Powerpuff Girls.”

    I snickered when I read that. And then my snicker turned into a full-out laughing fit. Oh, excellent. Since I haven’t said it recently, let me say it now: I love your blog!!

  6. gentlebear
    June 19th, 2009 at 04:34 | #6

    As you might know, I’m a big Yoko fan (I mean, I actually dig her music), but I always take delight in your writing. And I had to laugh a little (okay, a lot).

  7. June 19th, 2009 at 05:16 | #7

    It’s hard to do savage and funny in the same piece. You managed it quite well. And you’re right about her, all down the line.

  8. June 19th, 2009 at 10:14 | #8

    As a former chairmen of a smaller Beatle Fan Club in Sweden I must say that I really do agree with you. Very well written.

    Honest Joe

  9. question marc
    June 21st, 2009 at 11:13 | #9

    I’ve always claimed that Lennon could not hold a candle to the much superior McCartney. Not as a melodist, not as an instrumentalist, not even as a lyric writer. As the years go passing by, Lennon’s songs seem flatter, crasser, blander and more hypocritical. McCartney had downtimes too, but i believe his GOOD songs will endure the ages way more than, say “Cold Turkey”, “Mother” or the terrible “Woman is the n____r of the world” who look pretty self-pitifying, simplistic and pretentious in 2009.

  10. ricky nielsen
    July 1st, 2009 at 02:43 | #10

    I enjoy reading ur blog but I think somehow you have missed the point of Yoko , it is one of those things one either ”gets” or doesn’t , a person either digs outsider music or they hate it , I have always loved yoko’s music’s ability to drive the cubes away from the party….

  11. July 5th, 2009 at 22:15 | #11

    I dig your blog and appreciate the work you put into it. This “twattery in pop” thing is a bit of a downer, and so I’m skipping these. Plus I am not in the slightest bit patient or open-minded when it comes to Yoko-bashing. I love her and that’s the way it stays.

  12. Ross
    July 30th, 2009 at 10:42 | #12

    I agree with you Chris ,100%.
    I have several Japanese friends and what he says it’s true.
    They are extraordinary people but very very cold and with almost no feelings.
    I don’t think that Yoko Ono has ever felt something for John.
    I think she used him just to be at the centre of the attention .
    The fact that she carries on to “use” John name ,glasses and clothes for her “records” explain it all.
    After 29 years she should let him rest in peace.If she really can’t come to term with his lost ,she should grieve privately as a lot of people in this world do and stop using his name for her work!
    Give us a break!

  13. guest
    August 7th, 2009 at 06:52 | #13

    ur fucking retarded. everyone has feelings u idiot.

  14. August 7th, 2009 at 09:30 | #14

    Dude! Was that a comment from Yoko Ono herself up there?!

    Wow!

  15. Navin
    September 6th, 2009 at 23:19 | #15

    Wow,
    Yoko bashing and racist comments about the Japanese.
    Good stuff mouth breathers.

  16. September 7th, 2009 at 07:22 | #16

    Racist comments? You’re making a serious allegation rather carelessly, Navin. Would you care to elaborate where you found racism in the comments, and what you understand under racism. Because criticism of a prevailing national culture is not racist.

    As for “Yoko-bashing”, I couldn’t care less what you think about it unless you explain exactly where you disagree with the points I made.

  17. meme
    September 16th, 2009 at 01:36 | #17

    wow, it seems to me that all you have just accused yoko ono of you are also guilty, and im sad to say i growled when i heard all the crap you were saying about john lennon. both of them were extraordinarily gifted, and sensative people and i dont think someone like you would understand the profoundness of their work.,

    as for your comments about yoko ono being heartless and from upperclass japanese, i think you forgot just how long she spent after the bombing carrying all of her worldly possessions on her back, and begging for food. hmmmmm dumb much??

  18. Keith
    November 13th, 2009 at 21:13 | #18

    I read the accompanying interview with her in Mojo when I was on a flight. I am a pretty obsessive music fan but I didn’t know she had released anything apart from “Walking on Thin Ice” and a b side or two. I never knew she had actually recorded quite a lot of albums.

    The problem with the comments is that they mostly fail to mention the music or just take unrepresentative samples.

    When I got back I looked up some of her stuff on YouTube and I have to say I was flabbergasted at how good some of it was.

    She definitely was an influence on certain things. B52s and Sonic Youth openly acknowledge her. If you listen to some of the rockier stuff on her early 70s albums you can see where Patti Smith got some of her ideas from (why do you think she invited Ono to host Meltdown). One other influence that goes unnoticed is her influence on Can. Her early albums – the ones everyone just dismisses as screeching – remind me a lot of early 70s Can which means she was about 3-4 years ahead of the Curve.

    The other interesting thing about Can is that they also had a Japanese singer with a rather “unconventional” singing style and were often prone to go off into atonal, discordant jams. And yet everywhere you look people fall over backwards to praise Can as an absolutely key influence on modern music (which of course they were).

    If you have an open mind I would suggest you listen to these:

    1/ “Why?” – shouty avant garde
    2/ “Death of Samantha”, “Revelations” – ballards
    3/ “Move on Fast”, “Approximately Infinite Universe” – proto punk
    4/ “Kiss Kiss” – New Wave
    5/ “Greenfield Morning”, “Mind Holes” – trippy psychedelia

    If you are open minded you might find something you like.

  19. DSB
    September 19th, 2011 at 21:54 | #19

    You sure do go on and on for someone trying to be fair, and you do sound as if you blame her for breaking up the Beatles. C+

  20. halfhearteddude
    September 21st, 2011 at 10:46 | #20

    Who said I was trying to be fair? But, no, I don’t think I blame her at all for the break-up of The Beatles. That would have happened anyway, and it’s good that it happened then, before a decline in quality could set in.

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